If you love your job and work a lot, how do you adjust in slow periods?
February 2, 2016 5:52 PM   Subscribe

I know this is a very nice problem to have. However: if you are someone who loves the work you do, how do you deal with the inevitable slow periods? I have a job that is very challenging, fast-paced, and genuinely helps people. It is also often very stressful. I love my job. About two or three times a year, though, conditions will shift and all at once I may have a week or two that is considerably less busy. During this time period, I find myself to be quite irritable. A day or two of catching up on errands or sleep and I am ready to be back to the regular pace. Four or five days in, I am very impatient and cranky.

I do have lovely friends and a social life outside of work and during these weeks I try to host more than usual and enjoy longer visits (such as a weekend trip to see friends last weekend), but all my friends are also busy and I don't expect people to be available to suddenly hang out a lot just because I am. Things I have tried to get through these periods: reading hard books, going on long hard runs, cooking lots of food, travel. That all helps me feel less despondent, but I am still pretty cranky/weepy every time this happens. It's like I feel a combination of boredom and loneliness when things slow down and then have a huge over-reaction to those feelings. I feel like the solution should be to build more of a sense of community/connection outside of my work, but even when I put tons of effort into that, I feel the results are unimpressive. I live in a big city and people tend to be pretty individualistic; what actually makes me feel like I am part of our species and connected to others is my work, and when that slows down for even a week or two at a time, I am kindof a mess. I have always joked that I am only an hour or two of boredom away from an existential crisis, but in recent years this has felt like less of a joke. Have you felt this way? Is there a way to reframe this time or make it more fun? If you've toggled between intensely busy periods and a huge slow down, have you found ways to coast to a stop comfortably? Thanks for your advice!
posted by Sophia Del Verde to Human Relations (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Volunteer? You could probably organize a whole event during a week or two period for some charity or other.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:14 PM on February 2, 2016

If you know when these slow periods are going to be you could give yourself a hobby project. So if you were into woodworking for example your goal could be to make a piece of furniture during that downtime. This is assuming that you don't need to be in an office during the slow times.

The other thing I would think about is using that time to refine your work practices. In my office for example, once we get some down time we will be moving to a new more capable software platform because we are using our current platform for much more than it should be used for.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:01 PM on February 2, 2016

I find that it only takes a few months of intense work (less free time) to "lose" my hobbies - the things I do and want to do and love to do just get pushed out of my world and out of my mind and a new reality becomes the new normal, and it really gets cemented in hard. Then when I'm back to reasonable work hours where I could take those hobbies and side-projects up again, they're just not there any more. Almost like I've forgotten my dreams, and I know I should have some dreams but I can't think of any and don't know how to have dreams. Which is crazy because only a few months ago even if I had 24 hours a day free it wouldn't be enough for all the cool things I was juggling and really really wanted to have enough time to do.

For me, one of the things that works is to not let go of side-projects during times where there is no time for them (this is frustrating, but it means that when there is time, there are things waiting to be picked up again). Keep things on the backburner even if the heat has to be turned down near absolute-zero.

Another is simply to keep a To Do list of things I really really want to do but don't have time right now. So they don't get obliterated by months of not thinking that way and I can hit the ground running the moment I get some time.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:41 PM on February 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've started to feel a lot like that this year as my 80 hour work weeks have slowed to about 45-55 hours because I'm better at my job (I'm a teacher). What I've done when I've experienced the inevitable crisis of too much time on my hands, I've:
*found a community and committed to them - dinner groups, communities revolving around a hobby, etc. Meeting new people and committing to authentic relationships.
*made a routine - I think Annie Dillard said "The way we spend our days is, of course, the way we spend our lives." Are there activities that you want to do more consistently? Exercise, read, play music, write, start a side project, cook vegan, work on your house? Use this time to see if you can carve in activities that you might only do once in a while to doing several times a week.
*enjoy the arts - this is something that I wish I invested more time in. I go to a lot of shows, but I'd love to watch more documentaries or visit art openings, etc.
posted by orangesky4 at 7:43 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I freelance and I feel you on your entire post, especially the busy friends part. It's not like when I happen to have a week off everyone else is just waiting around to do all the fun things I never have time for. My problem is when things get slow, by the time I figure out what to do with myself, the next project is here and I'm like "oh well at least I got to sleep in for a week or two".

Maybe this isn't possible with your work, but what I try to do is have ongoing personal projects that I can pick up when I have time. It's still the stuff I do for work, it's just stuff I'm more personally interested in doing (no client). I also find that it's easier to keep hobbies going if it's tangentially related to or somehow complements my work stuff.
posted by bradbane at 8:43 PM on February 2, 2016

Do you keep a list of things you'd like to do but don't have time? I have a couple of 'what to do when bored' options although I know some people prefer it as a single list: e.g. movies you'd really like to get around to watching, that art gallery you walk past on the way to X but never visit, that cafe a review mentioned that sounds amazing but is only open during working hours, hand writing a letter to a friend you've lost touch with, starting a blog and prepping a series of posts so you can keep it going through the busy period into the next slack moment, etc. It doesn't all have to be fun, some of it is 'sort through all my clothes and take the unwanted ones to the thrift store'.

I use a combo of a book of lists, and a google map of interesting local places to remind me of the things I want to make time for, when there's time.
posted by AFII at 12:29 AM on February 3, 2016

i moved to a "latin" culture twenty years ago, and coming to terms with taking things easy is something i've really had to learn. i disagree with others here who are suggesting you find something else to fill the hole. instead, i think you should make a real attempt at learning to be lazy (in a good way).

try to let yourself go.

in my experience, doing nothing much for a week is not hard in itself. heck, you could just read mefi and read some books. what is hard is letting yourself do it and not feel bad. understanding that, confronting it, and earning to be "nice to yourself" is an interesting process in itself. you learn more about yourself and, i think, you gain a useful tool. i suspect it's quite healthy t be a vegetable at times.

basically, just don't do anything for a week. and when you start to feel bad about it, think about why. keep thinking until there's nothing left.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:54 AM on February 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your thoughtful responses so far. Reading the suggestions to have lists of activities to do (though good themselves) makes me realize that the main problem is loneliness, not boredom. But I mix the two up frequently, as I did in my post.

@andrewcooke to your point, I have lived in a couple of small towns in latin america, even doing similar work as I do now (human rights) and not had quite the same problem as I do here and I think it is because (at least in my experience), people there just know how to hang out more. Like, if you finish a very intense period of work, there is always someone with a baby you can hold or an onion you can chop for them. You can always just sit around with someone and have a coffee if all else goes quiet. It does not feel that way in the states; everything is so scheduled that if you have unscheduled free time, you just have to hang out with yourself for ages until things pick up again.

So basically: is there a way to make it feel less separate and siloed here?
posted by Sophia Del Verde at 4:57 AM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hmmm, sounds like you want an institution like a church or a gym or a neighborhood bar-- the kind of place where some people are regulars. Maybe drop-in dance classes?
posted by yarntheory at 9:32 AM on February 3, 2016

I feel like the solution should be to build more of a sense of community/connection outside of my work, but even when I put tons of effort into that, I feel the results are unimpressive.
So basically: is there a way to make it feel less separate and siloed here?

My answer in a previous Ask.
posted by Michele in California at 10:46 AM on February 3, 2016

Are you on the clock while less busy or is this freelance/contract work? When I'm less busy at work I do training that I want to do or work on professional certification.
posted by fiercekitten at 11:24 AM on February 3, 2016

If you're joking that you're only an hour or two of boredom away from an existential crisis… you might benefit greatly from becoming more comfortable with who you are when you're not furiously distracting yourself with other people and activities.

At some point in your life, you're going to have to learn to face yourself. Might as well be now.

Give learning how to meditate a shot.
posted by culfinglin at 11:27 AM on February 3, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I have been working on developing a weekly community dinner at my place for a while and will keep at that project. I will also keep looking for regular neighborhood hang outs.

@culfinglin--I appreciate the meditation suggestion. I am part of a meditation group and do that for a few hours each Sunday and do a couple of silent retreats each year. I also live alone and have traveled extensively alone. I feel good about my time alone with myself. My work does not distract me from myself (it requires a lot of myself to do it), it connects me to myself and others , but when it is gone, I really miss it. I feel like when I am not working, basically the paradigm in this culture is to just consume products/services/conveniences/experiences alone. That really depresses me. ..
posted by Sophia Del Verde at 3:57 PM on February 3, 2016

I have no new suggestions to add, but wanted to say that I experience the exact same thing but have never put it into words. I'm also in a big city and commiserate with you: the paradigm in this culture is to just consume products/services/conveniences/ experiences alone. That really depresses me
Good luck! and thanks for posting!
posted by la_rousse at 1:42 PM on February 4, 2016

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